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Sunday, January 24, 2016

G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files Vol. 1

Title: G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files Vol. 1

ISBN: 9781613777312
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: IDW, 2013
Artist: Antonio Fuso
Writer: Mike Costa
Collects: G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files #1-4

Rating: 2.5/5

Cobra Files centers on an elite team of Joes tasked with hunting down and eliminating Cobra-centric schemes and individuals, a high-risk undertaking, indeed.  An integral part of this team is Chameleon, once a Cobra agent who has defected to the other side.  Her history is relayed quickly and efficiently, so as to bring any readers up to speed who haven’t been closely following the G.I. Joe comics, which included me.  There are various characters and information that come from earlier stories in other recent Joe comics, but there is enough explanation that you get the picture, and the story quickly moves on into new and exciting territory.

This is a dark and brooding take on the G.I. Joe universe, rooted very much in a serious, militaristic reality, though there are still adequate amounts of astounding set pieces, sword and gunplay, and code names.  All of the characters take themselves very seriously, as they should in their line of work, but I would have enjoyed a slight respite from all of the dour faces and situations.  There is a wonderful Snake Eyes joke that you can’t help but laugh at, because being a G.I. Joe fan, you just get it, and Tomax, one half of the classic Cobra twin duo of Tomax and Xamot, brings some uneasy, menace-tinged humor into the mix from time to time.  Emotions are very prevalent in The Cobra Files, and while everyone is mostly serious, it is largely because each character is dealing with their own personal issues and demons, an element I thoroughly enjoyed.  This is a strong, character-driven book, focusing specifically on Chameleon, but we get to learn about the other characters' emotions and pasts either through her, or in her interactions with them.  For me, one of the most entertaining and rewarding characters was Ronin, an intense and insanely skilled female assassin, and a character who was completely new to me.  Every character in Cobra Files is compelling in one way or another, and this first volume, which collects issues one through four of the series, is setting up a longer story arc that is sure to continue delivering thrills while increasing the main characters’ complexities and relationships.

Fuso’s art is detailed and perfectly conveys the sense of danger hanging over the Joes activities.  The action set pieces are visceral and have a smooth sense of motion to them, especially one involving Lady Jaye and a motorcycle.  You get swept up into the action right alongside the team, and Chameleon’s narration helps to keep perspective of how deadly their job is, and also how important.  Her narration provides us with insight, as opposed to actually narrating the plot of the story, which is a good thing.  One issue that did bug was that there were too many shadows throughout the book.  At times, it felt as if more than half of the lights were out in the Joes' headquarters, or that they just enjoy working in deep shadows for some reason.  The look definitely fits the tone of the book and complements the secret intelligence and covert op thrust of the missions, but I feel some of Fuso’s art is lost in the shadows, and they sometimes made it hard for me to read a character’s facial expressions, which also fits with the style of the book.  The deep, seemingly consistent shadows are simply not my preferred style.  It is worth mentioning that this collection does include some stellar variant covers and pin-up art, and I absolutely loved Fuso’s sparse, electric cover; the silhouetted characters are mysterious and powerful, and the Cobra word bubbles carry a sense of menace that just begs you to open up the book and start reading.

Costa’s writing is gritty and peppered with pertinent military lingo, giving the aspects of the Joes’ security protocol and intelligence gathering a real-world feel, which elevates the more straightforward action adventure style of G.I. Joe, which I do still love, but this book has some weight to it.  There are real risks and stakes, and Costa does not pull any punches with his storytelling or his characters' emotions.  The Cobra Files is an intriguing, intellectual, and emotional story about what happens between and underneath the cracks and what covert espionage looks like within the secret world of G.I. Joe.  With a former Cobra operative as our guide, this title is all the more complex and worthy of a read, because just like the Joes, we never know quite how things are going to turn out, but we’re still excited to dive in headfirst, though the more intelligence we’ve gathered ahead of time, the better.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2016 - A Shiny New Year

It's the new year, and I've been meaning to write my year ahead piece for quite a while. I've had quite a lot going on to keep me away from my writing activities. Here we go...
February 19-21

I've put my application in to cover Wizard World Portland as a member of the media as I have for Cherry City Comic Con, Rose City Comic Con and EUCON last year. I'm still very hopeful, and I've already lined-up artists Michael Golden and Arthur Suydam to do covers for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.
April 7-10

It's been a few years since I've been able to go to Emerald City ComiCon. I wasn't actually planning on going this year, but one of my best friends asked if I would like to go... and we have free lodging courtesy of our McMenamins passports at their newest property; Anderson School. The unfortunate side is that we're only going for Sunday, but that is helpful to me as the last time I went I didn't get to do anything because of my relentless pursuit of getting autographs from too many people. I am really looking forward to possibly getting a cover done by Chad Hardin and am really excited to get the chance to meet Fiona Staples... as Saga has become one of my favorite trades to read. As more artists get announced, I will probably reach-out to a few others for covers for our cause.
April 30 - May1

I've reached out to see if I can get a table or booth for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer at this years event; but I haven't heard anything back yet. I'm looking forward to going to this hometown event. There hasn't been any artists announced other than Mike Grell yet... but from what I heard from the CCCC director at NW Comic Fest, this should be an epic show!

Northwest Comic Fest debuted last year. It was the first time I was able to have a table to help promote Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, and it was incredibly helpful. This year, the director is trying something new by offering the chance at a free comic con. He has a Kickstarter going, and you can click the link on the NW Comic Fest logo to go there. It'll be interesting to see what comes of this.
September 10-11

Rose City Comic Con is one of my favorite, local cons. I'm hoping to be able to cover it again this year as last and would like to try an enlist more artist to help support Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

Last years EUCON was great. I look forward to going back this year. I'd love to cover it again.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin Vol. 1: Priceless

Title: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin Vol. 1: Priceless

ISBN: 9780785193562
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2015
Artist: Phil Jimenez, Stephanie Hans
Writer: Kieron Gillen, Marguerite Bennett
Collects: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1-6

Rating: 2.5/5

Angela has an interesting history in comics.

She was originally an Image Comics character created by Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane, first appearing in Spawn. Eventually, through a court battle, Gaiman gained complete control over the rights to the character and then sold her off to Marvel. After bouncing around a bit through some event and space comics, the character landed her own series. Written by Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett, with art by Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans, the series was eventually cancelled by Marvel to make way for their awesome new event called Secret Wars; what did this short-lived series have to offer?

In a long-winding tale of political marriage/love and different cultures, Angela once thought herself to be an angel from Heven (AKA the Tenth Realm). However, after the events of Original Sin, it turns out that she is the long-lost daughter of Odin and Freya, who was thought to have been killed as a baby. Angela is in an odd place after being cast out of Heven when that truth came to light and she doesn’t know her place in the universe anymore. However, she is about to make things far more difficult for herself when she decides to steal her new baby sister from Asgard for undisclosed reasons and becomes a fugitive alongside her pal, Sera.

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin Vol. 1 collects the entire six issue run by Gillen and Bennett, and after reading it, the series itself comes across as a bit lackluster in the story and writing department. It has a very boring main character, a plot that’s aimless until almost two thirds of the way in and awkward story structure and narration — which is disappointing considering that there’s such a strong creative team at the helm.

Beginning with the story itself, the first half of the comic series is about Angela and Sera running around and avoiding Thor and Asgardians. There’s really not a lot happening, just some flashbacks and a couple of awkward mini-stories into the mix to deliver exposition and backstory involving Angela. The story feels entirely boring during this section, since you don’t know what the point to anything is and there’s nothing to get really invested in. The fourth issue is sort of the same way, though we finally (and mercifully) learn what deal is towards the very end with why Angela stole the child and what her end goal is.

The next issue deals with Angela, Sera and the Guardians of the Galaxy busting into Heven in order to expunge the baby of the evil within it. The issue also ends the conflict between Angela and Thor in a rather unceremonious way that makes you wonder why she never bothered explaining the problem to him or the other Asgardians (even if they didn’t believe her, she could’ve tried something first before making things incredibly difficult for herself). The last issue wraps up the story and closes out on a cliffhanger about the fate of a certain character. While it feels like it ended a tad too clean, the story does conclude with a much more satisfactory ending than Ant-Man did in his recently released trade in that it didn’t come across as being contrived and wrapped up the majority of the story elements introduced.

The storytelling on the book leaves a lot to be desired. While the pacing tends to be fine for the most part, things change when the mini-stories take place. In every issue, the comic will just take a break from the action or the main story to tell a tale about Angela or Sera’s backstory. Sometimes the stories are relevant to the topic at hand and sometimes they are not (explaining the rules about angels to the little girl in issue two made no sense given the lead in or what she supposed to be learning). Sometimes these mini-stories aren’t even mini-stories at all, but moments currently happening in the present like with issue four. However, they are always usually very abrupt, just grinding the story to a halt and then having a character go on and on in overly flowery, poetic monologues about the current topic. While the tone and narration style matches what you might see in a Thor comic, there’s just tons upon tons of exposition unloaded in a rather boring and purple prose-esque way.

The troubled storytelling and plot choices aside, the biggest problem the comic has going for it is the character of Angela. She is uninteresting and not compelling, simply put. She is boasted to be this super badass character, the best of best when it came to the angels from Heven and adhering to a code of repaying debts (something drilled into her brain by the people of the Tenth Dimension). The trouble is that there is nothing else to character. She’s tough, unrelenting in her goals, and stubborn… but that’s all there is. She doesn’t even have strong connections or friendships with the other characters that can humanize her nor does she have any exchanges or scenes with anyone where there’s weight or emotion to them. The closest she gets to a friendship or having a “human” side to her is with Sera, but the comic still paints it with the idea that Angela is mostly just focused on their debts to one another. Now, to be fair, all of these personality traits shown in the comic could be an accurate representation of Angela. If so, the comic could have gotten her character down perfectly… but even then, she could have benefited from Gillen or Bennett just giving her a bit more depth or personality.

The rest of the writing, otherwise, is perfectly alright. The characterization for almost everyone else in the comic seems on point (though Ferya looks much older and Odin seems a bit more pleasant in comparison to their appearance in Aaron’s current Thor series). Some of the dialogue and ex”hanges happening, usually not involving the stick-in-the-mud main character, are solid and have some good character beats on display. While the humor can miss a bit or be downright groan-inducing (“Heaven is a Place on Earth” joke was awful), there are a few good jokes that do elicit a chuckle or smile from time to time.

The artwork is split into two parts: Phil Jimenez draws the main story and Stephanie Hans handles the smaller one. Both artists are very good and do a fantastic job of bringing the story to life. Phil Jimenez does a fantastic job drawing the characters and bringing them to life and the action look exciting and amazing in areas. He’s just as good at making locations indelible and the imagery and visuals in the some scenes, such as Angela walking through fire in the third issue, are hauntingly gorgeous. Sadly, Jimenez’s art struggles in a couple of areas. He has a difficult time in areas of keeping characters’ faces look consistent, so they look they are constantly aging back and forth. The inking and penciling look bad in certain areas, in particular the end of the fourth issue where things seem messier and not as clean. Then there is the new costume that Angela ends up getting. Her original costume at the beginning of the series is revealing, impractical, and rather silly looking (though I like her headpiece). Her new outfit is less revealing, but still very impractical and silly looking. Sure, the writer tries to justify her wearing it, but the artist never makes it look good on her. It seems like it would be very uncomfortable to wear, the headpiece looks like it should fall off at any second, and the outfit makes it appear as if she has a Mohawk and ponytail.

Stephanie’s art is just as good as Jimenez, but with less problems. Her layouts are excellent, the imagery and action looks intense and amazing throughout, and the use of colors makes for a dazzling looking book. Heck, she can even make the new costume Angela end up with a look that’s somewhat respectable and that’s amazing. Sure, some of the faces don’t look consistent in a few areas and the narration in these sections tend to cover the images, but that’s nitpicking. In general, despite the problems, the artwork is still pretty great.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City

Title: Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City

ISBN: 9781401248925
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2014
Artist: Chad Hardin, Stephane Roux, Amanda Conner, Becky Cloonan, Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Plorea, Dan Panosian, Walter Simonson, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Bruce Timm, Charlie Adlard, Adam Hughes, Art Baltazar, Tradd Moore, Dave Johnson, Jeremy Roberts, Sam Keither, Darwyn Cooke
Writer: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti
Collects: Harley Quinn #0-8

Rating: 4/5

In the 1990s, the LEGION character Lobo achieved a kind of ubiquity in which, having started as a bit player, he became more popular and outrageous in LEGION until he broke out on his own, still appearing across the DC Universe as a "serious" character but also in his own farcical title and a litany of one-shots and team-ups -- Lobo and Batman, Lobo and the Authority, Lobo and Judge Dredd, Lobo and Christmas, Lobo and comic cons.

When Tom Taylor teamed Harley Quinn and Green Arrow in Injustice, it was inspired; when Taylor teamed Harley and Lobo, it was fate. With Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's new Harley series, the first issues of which are collected in Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City, we find the Harley Quinn character becoming today what Lobo was then, and even Ambush Bug before them -- that DC Universe character still played straight elsewhere, but who's managed to get just one toe planted firmly on the other side of the fourth wall. With her own Christmas and convention specials now, Harley stands to inherit one of the great (if necessarily absurd) heritages of DC Comics.

Conner and Palmiotti's Harley Quinn series is not uproariously funny, but it is entertaining and goofy. Most appealing about the book is its bizarre range -- ultra-violent battles with ludicrous assassins we maybe expect, but it's wondrously confusing when the audience suddenly finds themselves, in the midst of it all, with Harley watching a burlesque, competing in roller derby, or holding a rooftop party for the tenants of her new apartment building (a trick Palmiotti pulled in Superboy, too). To some extent the new Harley Quinn series doesn't know what it is, except that it's not superhero comics as usual, and that may be its biggest selling point.

Hot in the City begins with the book's very fourth-wall-breaking zero issue; the variety of artists here lends itself to Harley appearing in a variety of situations, the most riotous of which when she beats up the Tiny Titans. The zero issue is misleading, however, as are to some extent Conner's covers for the book; the book is an absurdist comedy, to be sure, and the fourth wall takes a lot of damage, but series artist Chad Hardin's style is a mite more realistic than I expected. Harley's adventures are fanciful, but they're not as self-aware as I had thought, at least until the "Gnu 52" bit with Dan DiDio late in the book.

For me, the book works best either in out-and-out meta-commentary, or else when it veers to the slapstick. An early fight scene in which Harley ducks a gunshot and we see the innocent driver next to her explode is the stupid-funny gross-out comedy that the book does well. It achieves, in some parts, the tone of a Quentin Tarantino movie, and no sooner was I thinking this late in the book than Hot enters a couple-page riff on Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. The references dissipate almost as soon as they start, which is par for the course for Harley Quinn; the book is flighty, never quite holding one thought before it's off to the next, and the next.

Case in point, early in the book Conner and Palmiotti tell a Valentine's tale that lands just this side of splatterhouse horror; no sooner does that end than farce is in full gear again with Harley kidnapping and berating the seemingly-negligent family of a nursing home resident. This latter part comes from Harley, nee Dr. Harleen Quinzel, disguising her pallid skin and taking a job as a therapist. Connor and Palmiotti play this for yucks, but I actually thought the idea of Harley trying to contain herself within a "normal" existence was pretty interesting, and I'd have liked to see more of it. (Kyle Baker wrote a short-lived Plastic Man series that maybe accomplished this better; it was 99% irreverence, but then 1% acknowledging the character's own hopelessness and depression, tempering the comedy with self-awareness.)

I found less effective a good chunk of the middle of Hot in the City, in which Harley is recruited to help octogenarian Sy Borgman (read "Sy-Borg") take out some Cold War enemies. There's basic visual humor in Harley, aged machine-man Sy-Borg, and Harley's ever-present taxidermied beaver all on the page together, but a lot of the spy versus spy references I just didn't get, and Conner and Palmiotti begin to repeat themselves too quickly with their Yiddish curses. About the time we leave Harley and Borgman entirely for a page just devoted to zoo animals tearing off a gangster's head, I felt as though the shark had thoroughly been jumped, and I was glad when we got back to Harley's adventures in roller skating.

Given how much different stuff Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City is about, it may be at its most remarkable when it's about nothing -- Harley freeing a kennel full of animals, or eating at a diner with her neighbors. With the exception of China Mieville's Dial H and some of the fleeting domesticity of Animal Man, we haven't had a "regular folks" or non-superhero book in the New 52 thus far; Harley Quinn fits the bill. You won't die laughing, but you'll probably laugh when people die, and hopefully Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's endeavor will get sharper as it goes.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Between Here and the Lint trap

Title: Between Here and the Lint Trap 
Price: $15.00
Publisher/Year: Slumberland Press & RLT Press, 2012
Artist: Gene Guilmette
Writer: Desmond Miller

Rating: 3.5/5

Yes, this is not my normal type of book to review, but after meeting the artist, Gene Guilmette, at Rose City Comic Con in 2015, I couldn't pass-up the chance to review this book. (It also helped that he provided the copy to me a no charge.) But... I am about no bias reviews, so I enter into this review with full disclosure and no reservations.

Those that are closest to me know that I am a big kid at heart. Not only do I collect comic books and trad paperbacks, but I also collection action figures, Funko Pop vinyl figures and miscellaneous toys. One of my favorite books when I was young was "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak. This book took me back to those days.

Without giving away too much, this is the story of Jay J trying to find his favorite socks; Boonie and Koonie. His search takes him into a fantasy land of the imagination when he looks for his socks in the clothes dryer.

The art works very well with the story. I'm actually fairly eager to check-out "Between Here and the Drain". Perhaps I'll be see Gene at this years Rose City Comic Con as well.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who has young children. I'm no good at determining age ranges because by age 10 I was already reading Stephen King stories.

WANTLIST - Hasbro SDCC 2024 G.I. Joe Classified Series: Cobra Commander (Once a Man) Figure

  When I first started my action figure collection, I tried to keep it within the 3.75" realm because that's what scratched by nost...